I moved to Texas from Washington DC, with my three-year-old daughter in tow, to marry my husband. It was all a grand adventure. In the DC metro, the long commute time lends itself to isolation. People mostly stay in their houses and their cars. Texas is refreshingly, sometimes overwhelmingly, the opposite.
We quickly found a church, joined a life group, and settled into life in suburbia. Finding things to do was easy. Most of the people at church just hung out with people in similar life stages. Young married life groups, MOPS, baby showers, scrapbooking retreats, park playdates, Pampered Chef and Superbowl watching parties provided more than ample opportunities to get involved.
Challenges and Changes
One night I awoke to an empty bed and discovered my husband in his office with the door locked. Shortly thereafter, inappropriate websites, strange charges on bills, and extended periods of being unable to contact him on business trips sucked me into a vortex of a life unexpected and unknown. I had never heard of sex addiction. If it was even a real thing, no one in my community was sharing. I didn’t know how to move forward, and none of the people in my church community were being transparent about their struggles.
I felt alone.
I stumbled into a support group for wives. It was held in a church so it seemed safe enough. I was captivated and awe inspired by this circle of heathen strangers sharing their gut-wrenching, tear-jerking, brave soul stories. I found more comfort, hope, and healing with this group of broken women than I’d ever found in church community. They listened, offering no cliché advice, no spiritual fixes, no vacuous plans. They were present. It got me thinking. Why were my husband and I meeting for life group at church every week and never experiencing one tenth of what was being shared in our recovery meetings? It didn’t feel right.
I got a little zealous. (If you’ve ever been in recovery you know exactly what I’m talking about!) Convinced we couldn’t possibly be the only ones struggling, and desiring to foster this level of authenticity in our church community, we met with pastors and shared our story. It was raw and messy and bits and pieces went flying all over the place. We were like bulls in a china shop. In our church it was all so new, and this level of commitment to authentic living takes time. We did, however, find glimmers of support. There were friends who stuck closer than a brother, but what happened next tested the limits of our fledgling flock.
He died. On an icy night in December, with our three young kids asleep in their beds, our lives were torn apart. I don’t remember many details of the chaos that followed, but I do remember how many people showed up. People from church. All our family and many friends from my husband’s work flew in from all across the country. Friends from recovery coaxed me off the bathroom floor to attend the service. Teachers from the school that I’d only been working at for three months were there. People from the neighborhood arrived at the gathering at my house afterwards with food and folding chairs. People showed up. But after only a few years, many of those people were no longer around.
With the blessing of my pastor, I began attending a church with a single parent family ministry and found connection in ways uncommon. There it seemed like I was experiencing the perfect blending of the transparency of recovery groups and the connection of community with others in the same life stage.
I joined the church and became a community group leader. We regularly met together, shared laughter and tears, and cheered for each other’s kids at their various events. We held game nights and pool parties and sleepovers, had tough and awkward conversations and healthy debates about which books to read as a group (or if we should read at all?!). I still look back on this early time as the “glory years”.
As time went on, we found the membership and community group involvement growing more stringent, causing more conflict and confusion than I’d ever witnessed among believers. Community simply became an item on a church-membership checklist than a heartfelt desire to know and be known by one another.
Naturally, we began to ask questions. Who defines community? The church? What if one church defines it one way and another church defines it a different way? Who’s right? And what happens to the people who are “doing it wrong”?
One by one, we left with wounded hearts. Some walked away from their faith. Some acted out their hurt by hurting others. Some walked away from life. Hurt. Confused. Shunned. And then a few of us, without even knowing it until our teary eyes met across the sanctuary, landed at a liturgical church and found comfort and healing in the beauty and consistency of the traditions.
Though I’m still in the midst of a time of healing, I’m not giving up. There is hope in the church. Yes, we are broken people. And broken people form broken churches, but that does not mean we give up on them. Broken churches are still the body of God, and Christ loved our broken body enough to break His own for us. Through His cross, he reminds us that relationships are worth the difficulty, that love is worth the pain.
Christ calls us to live in community, to be the body of Christ, and to be the church, and the Church can be so, so painful, but there’s a reason so many “one anothers” are included in the scriptures. One of the best means for strengthening our faith is to meet together often for prayer, conversation, and praise.
We need the Church in order to that.
We need each other.
Ask tough questions.
Discover the answers… together.
Offer grace upon grace.
As the body of Christ, His holy Church.
Alisa is a single mom of three. An English tutor and creator of beautiful things, she is about to make a daring leap away from 14 years as a High School teacher to attend graduate school at UT Dallas where she will pursue a Masters in Leadership and Organization Development.